With more than $40 million now raised in his run for the White House, former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean posted a resounding victory Wednesday in the yearlong dash for cash among Democratic presidential candidates, cementing his status as the contender to beat in the race.
For all the importance of the Jan. 19 Iowa caucuses and the Jan. 27 New Hampshire primary, some analysts say the results of the “money primary” in the year before a presidential election are an even better guide to who will become the nominee. Since 1980, no major-party candidate who led in donations received by Jan. 1 of an election year has failed to clinch the nomination.
Dean’s fundraising is “really what put him on the map as a candidate and allowed him to achieve the status he achieved,” said Anthony J. Corrado Jr., a campaign finance expert at Colby College. “It has created a situation where most of the other candidates are going to find it hard to compete financially with Dean.”
Dean’s rivals acknowledge his fundraising prowess but say that his money advantage will not translate into victories when the contests begin.
“Look, there’s no doubt he’s had a very successful campaign,” Rep. Dick Gephardt of Missouri told reporters this week while campaigning in Iowa. “He’s gotten people involved that haven’t been involved before, and he’s raised more money than the other candidates. But again, the test is not all of that.... It comes down to who can win and keep winning to win the nomination.”
As the fourth quarter neared a close Wednesday, the Dean campaign announced it had pulled in more than $15.3 million since Oct. 1. And it urged supporters to give still more as the midnight deadline approached.
“The question now is how high will you go?” Dean campaign manager Joe Trippi wrote in an e-mail to backers. “The pundits talk about us running out of gas. They don’t get it. We’re just getting started.”
Three of every four dollars Dean raised in 2003 came in the last half of the year, reflecting his surging momentum.
His quarterly and yearly totals both were records for a Democratic presidential candidate. Dean had set the previous quarterly mark when he raised $14.8 million from July 1 through Sept. 30. The $40 million he garnered during 2003 surpassed the $26 million President Clinton collected in 1995 for his reelection campaign.
When Clinton was raising money, individual donations to candidates were capped at $1,000; the maximum now is $2,000. Clinton also focused much of his energy on raising the unlimited donations known as “soft money” that went to political parties. Such contributions are now banned.
As his fundraising has surged, Dean’s support among Democratic elected officials also has increased. On Wednesday, Rep. Pete Stark of Hayward became the 29th member of Congress to endorse Dean. Gephardt leads in such endorsements, with 34.
Among other Democratic candidates, retired Gen. Wesley K. Clark was expecting more than $10 million in fourth-quarter contributions, an aide said, which would place him second to Dean. Clark, who joined the race in September, raised at least $13.5 million for the year.
Formal reports for the fourth quarter must be filed with the Federal Election Commission no later than Jan. 15.
Most of the rest of the Democratic candidates were expecting no more than about $4 million for the quarter. Gephardt declined to say exactly how much he had raised, but his campaign estimated that the total would be between $3 million and $4 million. That would give Gephardt at least $16.7 million for the year.
Sen. John F. Kerry of Massachusetts reported raising about $2.5 million, a significant decline from previous quarters. But he also lent himself more than $6 million from his personal fortune, bringing his total 2003 receipts to more than $28.5 million.
“As we enter the election year, we are well positioned to effectively fight for and win the Democratic nomination and send George Bush back to Texas in just over 11 months from now,” Kerry financial strategists said in a statement Wednesday.
The statement did not mention that Kerry was the fundraising leader among the Democrats for the first half of the year. But as his campaign struggled, his rate of receipts slowed significantly.
Sen. Joe Lieberman of Connecticut was expecting to raise $2 million to $4 million for the fourth quarter, bringing his 2003 haul to at least $13.8 million. His spokesman, Jano Cabrera, dismissed Dean’s totals.
“Money can neither buy love, elections, nor viability in general elections,” Cabrera said, continuing Lieberman’s attack on Dean as a candidate who would be doomed to lose in a matchup against President Bush.
Another Lieberman aide, campaign director Craig Smith, said Wednesday that the senator would spend $4 million next month on new radio and television advertisements in New Hampshire and in several states that hold primaries on Feb. 3, such as South Carolina, Delaware, Oklahoma and Arizona.
Smith also indicated that Lieberman will keep targeting Dean, saying, “We’ll continue to contrast with other Democrats.”
Sen. John Edwards of North Carolina, one of the year’s early fundraising leaders, did not release an estimate of his fourth-quarter contributions. Through September, he had raised $14.5 million.
Among the three longshot Democratic candidates, Rep. Dennis J. Kucinich of Ohio was in the best shape financially, raising more than $1.5 million for the fourth quarter, according to his Web site, and nearly $5 million for the year.
Former Sen. Carol Moseley Braun of Illinois and the Rev. Al Sharpton of New York, who did not disclose their fourth-quarter receipts, are running low-budget campaigns.
As the Democratic candidates finished their 2003 fundraising efforts, they already have been spending large sums on television and radio advertisements and mailers to potential voters. As of the Feb. 3 contests, nine states will have chosen delegates to the party’s national convention -- enough to winnow the field significantly.
The new year will bring another significant development -- the distribution of public matching funds to qualifying candidates. For Clark, Lieberman, Edwards and Gephardt, that will mean government checks of at least $3.1 million. Kucinich will receive more than $700,000.
Times staff writer John Glionna contributed to this report.